One of the many things I adore about Japan is the many traditional festivals throughout the year. In the summer, every town has its own little (or huge!) festival complete with taiko drumming, drinking, omikoshi (portable shrine carried or pulled by residents), and people clad in yukata or jinbei. The real reason people come, of course, is the food. A visit to a summer festival can't be fully enjoyed without eating some kind of food on a stick! In general, eating while walking or in random public places (such as on a train platform) is frowned upon and not done except by clueless foreigners and naughty high school students. Festivals, thankfully, are an exception to this rule, and you can see all kinds of people not so daintily enjoying street food and boozing in the streets. Horray!
While most festival foods are not vegetarian friendly, I'd like to introduce you to a few of the options available for those who would rather pass on whole grilled squid on a stick.
Hot, steamy じゃがバター (jyaga bataa) is just a baked potato, salt, and a slab of butter thrown on top. Mayonaise optional. Simple and delicious!
If it's a steamy hot day, a lovely cool 冷やしきゅうり(hiyashi kyuuri) is always nice. While these cucumbers are usually just seasoned with salt, I think they may occasionally contain katsuodashi, so if you are not a fish eater it's a good idea to double check.
This is the first time I can recall seeing 冷やしトマト(hiyashi tomato) as a festival food option. It's just a cut up chilled tomato, with perhaps a sprinkle of salt.
焼きとうもろこし(yaki toumorokoshi), or grilled corn on the cob, is a satisfying vegetarian festival food option. While it's usually safe, the sauce may occasionally contain meaty or fishy extracts so I always ask the vendor before buying.
Moving on to sweets, your least junky option may be a chocolate dipped banana. So cute, but unfortunately the chocolate they use tends to be super low quality so I often find the taste a bit disappointing. Not that this has ever stopped me from getting one.
A sure Japanese festival classic is かき氷 (kakigoori), or shaved ice. Like a snow cone, these guys are usually topped by brightly coloured sugary flavored syrups, and sometimes condensed milk is also poured on top. You can occasionally find more gourmet stands serving syrups made with real juice and frozen fruit. I love the (now rare) old fashioned machines with the hand crank!
Mini castella (sponge cake) is another of the regulars. You can find these little bite sized cakes shaped into characters like Kitty-chan (Hello Kitty), Doraemon, and Pikachu, selling in bags of about 20 pieces and up.
I don't think I've ever actually tried あんず飴 (anzu-ame), despite how pretty they are. Apparently they're made from an apricot (and sometimes other fruit) surrounded by a glutinous starch syrup. Throw a stick in there, ice, and you're ready to go.
Happy nibbling! What's your favourite vegetarian summer festival food? I'm curious to hear about local specialties across Japan. For my international readers, what's your favorite veggie summer festival food in your country?